How to Be the Smartest Renter on Your Block

HOME Line wrote How to Be the Smartest Renter on Your Block to help renters through the process of finding, getting, and maintaining rental housing. Reflecting upon the real-life concerns we hear through thousands of questions on our tenant hotline, this book gives advice on the best ways to handle and avoid the most common rental problems. This book follows the rental process from beginning to end with several additional chapters on unique rental housing situations. The book begins with advice regarding finding and applying for an apartment and moves on to understanding the terms of a lease. Next, some of the most common issues renters run into once they’ve moved in are covered—getting repairs made, dealing with neighbors, right to privacy, and more. Later, the book addresses what to expect when a renter intends to move out of an apartment and how to make sure a security deposit is returned. Furthermore, several immediate emerging issues in the rental market are covered: What does a renter do when a landlord is in foreclosure? Who is responsible for paying when an apartment becomes infested with bedbugs? Lastly, we take a detailed look at community organizing and how tenants can work collectively to hold their landlords and elected officials accountable. How to Be the Smartest Renter on Your Block answers these questions and more.

“In my practice, I frequently represent residential Landlords and receive phone calls from prospective clients asking, ‘What do I need to know about being a Landlord?’  My answer these days: Read HOME Line’s How to be the Smartest Renter on Your Block.”

-Jason T. Hutchinson, Attorney at Law

Contents include:

  1. Shopping for an Apartment
  2. Applying for an Apartment
  3. Housing Discrimination
  4. Understanding Leases
  5. Neighbors & Roommates
  6. Privacy Violations
  7. Repairs
  8. Retaliation
  9. Ending a Lease
  10. Rent Increases
  11. Evictions
  12. Lockouts & Utility Shutoffs
  13. Security Deposits (click here to read an excerpt from this chapter)
  14. Abandoned Property
  15. Landlord Foreclosures
  16. Manufactured (Mobile) Homes
  17. Subsidized Housing
  18. Caretakers & Other Employees of the Landlord
  19. Renters Credit (CRP)
  20. Tenant Organizing
  • Appendix 1: Court Forms
    • Filing “IFP”
    • Conciliation Court
  • Appendix 2: Form Letters
    • Copy of Lease Request
    • Demand for Property
    • Notification of Guest Rights
    • Neighbor Violation
    • Right to Privacy
    • Repair Request
    • Retaliation Notice
    • Security Deposit Demand
    • Calculating Interest on Security Deposits
    • Sample Notice to Vacate
  • Appendix 3: List of Tenant Screening Companies
  • Appendix 4: Guide to Additional Resources
  • Appendix 5: Covenants of Habitability

Additionally, we have an online appendix available on our website. This online appendix provides links to relevant statutes, regulations, cases and other resources for renters that are accessible on the internet.

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Smartest Renter Cover

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Excerpt from “How to be the Smartest Renter on Your Block”:

Chapter 13: Security Deposits

Security deposits, also known as damage deposits, are used in rental housing to cover out­standing damage or disrepair that may be caused by a tenant during a tenancy. Most tenants are required to pay a deposit before moving into the apartment. Many landlords charge a full month’s rent for a security or damage deposit (or more, especially if the tenant has bad credit or no good rental history). Additional deposits for pets can be included as well. For detailed infor­mation about pet deposits and the effect of pets on a lease, see Chapter 4, Leases.

Security deposit disputes are one of the main reasons tenants call HOME Line. Most land­lords are fair with tenants when it comes to deposits, but there are certain landlords who seem to keep every tenant’s deposit. There are important proactive steps a tenant can take to protect himself on this potentially expensive topic.

Renters can improve their chances to get the deposit back by following these guidelines and learning more about how security deposits work.


• Overall rights and responsibilities as they relate to security deposits.

• How to document apartment conditions and take photos before mov­ing in and after moving out.

• To keep apartment in good condition; notify landlord promptly when repairs are needed.

• Not to “ride out” deposit to cover the last month’s rent.

• What to do after moving out.

• To expect a response from the landlord within 21 days of move out.

• To understand that in court, the burden is on the landlord to prove the tenant caused damage beyond ordinary wear and tear.